Free! Everyone loves getting something free, and if you run a small business, you certainly appreciate saving money. Fortunately, a whole lot of companies want to give you something free to help you run and grow your small business.
A few years ago, “free-mium” was all the rage as the latest business model. During the economic downturn, online companies wanted to capture your business by enticing you with a certain level of service for free, in the hopes you’d upgrade to the “premium” version. Today, there are fewer freebies, but you can still find many applications absolutely and continually free, especially if yours is a very small company.
Here are some free services for your small business you should definitely check out:
1. Build your company’s infrastructure
Google is more than a search engine or email: you can virtually run your whole business on Google. Create, share, and collaborate with Google’s office suite of wordprocessing (Docs), spreadsheets (Sheets), and presentation software (Slides) (www.google.com/docs); store all that content and more with Google Drive’s 8GB free limit; communicate via phone, SMS, or video call on Google Hangout; when people search for businesses like yours, get found through Google’s Get Your Business on the Map initiative (www.gybo.com).
2. Manage projects
Everyone needs a good ‘to do’ list. With Asana, you can manage projects, assign and keep track of tasks, view a team calendar, upload files, and more. Use it at the office or on the go to stay on top of projects without hundreds of emails back and forth.
3. Manage customers
It’s easier to keep a customer than to find a new one. And a CRM (customer relationship management) program makes it easier to keep those customers happy. Track contact information of course, but also birthdays, anniversaries, your customer’s dog’s name. The free version of Insightly gives you access for two users, up to 2500 records, and up to 200 MB of storage. Upgrade when you outgrow this plan and never lose what might be your company’s most important asset—your customer list.
4. Find out what customers want
How do you know what your customers want? Ask them! Conduct surveys about new products, pricing, services, whatever using Survey Monkey for free. If you need only a small survey sample of 100 respondents or fewer, SurveyMonkey is free for up to 10 questions.
5. Communicate with your customers and prospects
It can be unwieldy to regularly stay in touch with your customers and prospects – unless you use an “email newsletter” service. You can send announcements of sales or new products, send holiday greetings, or even send newsletters. MailChimp enables you to create attractive email newsletters quickly—and at no cost. Send up to 12,000 emails per month to a list of up to 2,000 subscribers with MailChimp’s free version.
6. Hold online meetings or conference calls
Conference calls used to be extremely expensive, but with Free Conference Calls, it’s free to hold conference calls with clients or contractors. Sign up, and you’ll get a dedicated number and no charges for the conference capability. Each caller pays their own long distance rates to dial in (if any). The service also allows you to record the teleconference if desired.
For free video conferences, use Skype, likely the best known provider of VoIP (or voice over internet protocol) calls. On Skype, group video calls are now free.
7. Store, share and backup files
Everyone in our office likes using Dropbox to store and share our files, especially when we’re working on a project with writers, editors, and designers, and need to make sure we’re all working on the correct version of a file. Dropbox’s free version starts out at 2 GB of storage per person and you can earn up to a total of 8GB through referring friends. You can work offline and when you’re back online, Dropbox syncs everything automatically.
8. Get a website
A website is a must and yet many small businesses don’t have one. With Wix, Weebly, and WordPress, there are no excuses not to have an online presence. You can get a simple site up quickly—without knowing any technical skills—right after you read this column.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on August 7, 2015